In an alleyway, I see some half a dozen or more armed men. A couple of them are talking in fast but a hushed tone. The others carry wooden boxes by twos.
I crouch by the garbage area, taking pictures. Suddenly, a scary black cat jumps at me, and I fall on my butt.
“Shit!” I curse.
Because of this, the men look in my direction. I hear one of them utter a command. In response, some footsteps quickly run toward me.
I scramble up my feet, panting and panicking. I curse under my breath once again for this bad luck. Heavens! That black cat is the reason why I’m going to get caught!
I try to run away as fast as possible from a couple of men who are at my heels. I can see the busy street of Baghdad market before me. A throng of people are doing and minding their own business. But before I can step out of the alleyway, the two men have already grabbed my arms.
“Help!” But no one can hear me in the noisy bustle. “Hey! Hey!” I shout. “Where are you taking me?” I demand, trying to keep the fear from my voice.
I try hard to free myself from the tight grip of the two armed men. Each holds one of my arms very tightly that I could feel them going to get bruised. All of them wear a head scarf that also hides half of their face. Only their dark eyes are visible.
I kick one of them in the shin and punch the other with a left hook. They both grunt in pain as I do. My knuckles hurt! I hope I didn’t break any bone.
I quickly turn around and run as I fumble on the memory card out of the camera. Using my handkerchief, I wrap it in without looking at the pathway.
I suddenly trip, falling almost to my face. “Ugh!” I groaned, wincing in pain. I can feel the stinging graze in my elbow but I am more concerned on the people that are after me than my injury. I frantically look over my shoulder only to see they are catching up fast.
I quickly bury half of my handkerchief in the ground, on the side of the pathway. There are litters almost everywhere anyway. So I think it is a safe place where I can hide the memory card, just in case.
I swallow hard, try to crawl and stand up. But they already grab me by the arms once again. I fight against them but to no avail. They drag me toward the end of the alleyway, in the opposite direction, where I happen to see some kind of transaction.
“An American, eh?” The man without a cover on his face says with a heavy accent. He looks like he’s the leader. Or, one of the leaders. He is tall, good-looking and has a strap beard without a mustache.
“Zamir, you get rid of her,” the other man with whom Zamir talks to earlier demands. His accent is the same as Zamir’s.
I believe this one’s voice is what I heard earlier, who has given out the order to chase me. He has a mustache and bushy thick beard. He looks uglier and fatter than Zamir.
Zamir laughs. “No, no, Jahmir. But I will surely take care of her,” he says instead, meaningfully.
Jahmir’s expression turns grim. “Fine.” Then he turns to one of the men who’s holding me. “Give me that camera,” he orders, giving me a sharp look.
The man on the left whom I just punched in the face takes the camera that hangs around my neck. He gives it to the man named Jahmir. He again looks at me with fury in his dark beady eyes, which makes me gulp. What will he do if he can’t find it?
“Where’s the memory card?” he demands.
But I laugh at him like a crazy bitch, trying to show that I am unafraid of them. His jaw muscles twitch, and he slaps me in the face. I groan and pant in pain. But then I laugh again, goading him instead.
“Where is it?” His voice is louder and angrier this time.
I spit on his face. “You’ll never find it… unless, you’ll watch me shit!”
“You swallowed it? You crazy bitch!” With the back of his hand, he hit me again in the other side of my face.
It seems I saw stars for a moment while I feel the heat and then the numbness in my cheek. I already know the corner of my lips is burst open. I spit the blood and laugh at him.
He wipes off my saliva from his face. If it were poison, he should be having seizure right now and die. Oh, how I wish it is the scene that’s going to happen but no! It’s no fantasy, and I have no magic powers.
“That’s enough, Jahmir. I said, I’ll take care of her,” Zamir intervenes with a warning look. He barks orders to his men after a second or two.
I can’t understand a thing since I know nothing about Arabic or Kurdish. Shit! I should’ve at least taken some basic lessons before I came here. Being an internet journalist, it would’ve come in handy. Blame it to my lazy self.
“Why don’t you kill me now?” I yell at them, making vain efforts to escape.
The two just effortlessly drag me toward a truck this time. The big black-and-gray truck waits on the far left side of the conjunction, in a not-so-busy street. I notice it is where the boxes are hauled in.
I whipped my head behind me. Zamir and Jahmir embrace each other and pat each other’s back in a brotherly manner before they go their separate ways.
“Sami, I have something to take care of in Kadhimiya. You know what to do,” he says in their native language. I only catch the word “Kadhimiya,” which is a place perhaps in the northeast of Baghdad.
Sami nods at him. He is a well-built man with a head scarf that also covers his face. He seems to be Zamir’s right-hand man. I notice he’s giving orders when Zamir left us.
Sami looks at me and signals the two men who haven’t let go of since they caught me. They haul me in the truck after binding my hands in front of me. They also take away my handbag and give it to Sami. He goes around the truck to sit in the front, next to the driver.
One of my pursuers takes a black cloth somewhere in the truck and puts it over my head, so I cannot see where we’re going.
‘I’m in really deep shit!’ I muse with regret, heart pounding hard in anxiety and fear.